Oil Chemistry Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an oil chemist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Oil Chemist?

Oil chemists are scientists with expertise in the molecular properties of oil. They typically work in the petroleum industry, where they may apply their knowledge to the extraction and refinement of crude oil, or to the manufacturing and distribution of petroleum products. An oil chemist might be assigned with the tasks of refining petroleum to create more efficient fuel, tracing oil spills to their source, or monitoring delicate refinery equipment. Some may focus their work on oil-related research, while others may specialize in finding ways to apply oil chemistry principles to problems in the field. It is also possible to study oil chemistry in an academic research job at a college or university.

The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree minimum; master's or PhD for research positions
Education Field of Study Chemistry, chemical engineering, petroleum engineering
Key Skills Develop new techniques for oil refining & processing; investigate oil spills; create polymer products
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (all chemists)*
Mean Salary (2015) Oil/gas extraction chemist: $103,830
Petroleum products chemist: $126,710*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need for a Career in Oil Chemistry?

Most oil and petroleum chemists who hold research positions in the petroleum industry hold a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). However, it's possible to find oil chemistry positions that only require you to hold a bachelor's or master's degree. Thus, enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in chemistry could get you started on your oil chemistry career. You could expect to take courses in math, physics and various subfields of chemistry, including organic, inorganic and physical chemistry. Additionally, you would complete laboratory sessions and complete a number of electives.

After obtaining your bachelor's degree, you could enroll in a PhD program in chemistry or a Master of Science or PhD program in chemical or petroleum engineering. An advanced degree in one of these fields, combined with an undergraduate degree in chemistry, could be especially helpful because you likely would acquire a strong background in theoretical chemistry, along with practical engineering skills that would be useful in the petroleum industry.

What Jobs Could I Apply For?

As an oil chemist, you could work for oil companies or refineries. For example, you might develop new and more efficient catalysts for use in the refining process or use chemical fingerprinting to investigate oil spills. You could also work for companies that produce chemicals used by the petroleum industry. Alternatively, if you have a background in polymer chemistry, you could work for a company that converts crude oil into polymer products, such as plastics or resins.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

Salary data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that in May 2015, chemists in the petroleum products industry earned the highest salaries among all chemists, with an average of about $126,710. Those who specialized in oil and gas extraction made an average of $103,830 (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a chemist, you could choose to direct your career toward an area of the field other than oil, such as medicinal or nuclear chemistry. Jobs in these and other subfields can be found in both academic and industrial settings. Alternatively, you could consider becoming a scientist in an entirely different field, such as physics or astronomy. Physicist study the fundamental laws and properties of the universe, while astronomers delve into the mysteries of space. Both use advanced equipment, conduct research, and report their findings. Like chemists, they need a doctoral degree for a top research job in academia, but lower-level jobs are also available, and individuals with bachelor's and master's degrees may also find jobs with private companies or government agencies.

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